Passion for a Cause - Two Employees Making a Difference

As we enter the holiday season – it’s important to remember the spirit of giving and spreading joy.

As we enter the holiday season – it’s important to remember the spirit of giving and spreading joy – not just for your own family, but in the lives of others.

For this month’s installment of the Careers and Culture blog, we sat down with Don Zombek, and Jess Erlund – two employees who have a passion near and dear to their hearts – making a meaningful impact in the lives of others and securing their lasting legacies through their work with Make-A-Wish Foundation and Science for Life.

Don Zombek has been with the Essential Utilities for over 12 years and is an Operations Manager for Peoples Natural Gas out of Gibsonia, PA. He currently oversees all the operations and maintenance crews, with seven supervisors reporting to him and is on-call 24-7. He supports Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Jess Erlund has been with the company for close to 20 years and is a Field Supervisor for Aqua Texas. He oversees a staff of 10 to make sure 41 water systems are operating properly within 5 different counties. He supports Science for Life.

How did you get involved with the organization you support?

DZ: “Nine years ago, my son came home and explained they had a discussion at school around volunteering. We decided that it would be great for him to experience what helping others means and the work that goes into it. My family has been into Christmas lights for a long time, so we figured why not decorate the house and have people make donations.

After researching several foundations and having a cousin that passed from a childhood disease, we decided on the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Not only do we raise money for Make-A-Wish, my wife and I go out and meet with families regarding upcoming wishes. The people from this organization are amazing.”

JE: “Science for Life is a science fair in one of our local elementary schools. I had heard about this fair through the kids on the soccer team I used to coach. The fair teaches young kids about science-related topics.

What do you do to support this organization?

DZ: “We do a Christmas Light Display at our home set to music. This event brings a lot of attention to this cause. It starts the Saturday after Thanksgiving with a huge grand opening and runs through December 30th. My family even helps direct traffic!

On opening night, the fire department closes the street and Santa greets guests – there are also ice sculptures and carriage rides. We shuttle visitors in - we have about 600 visitors on opening night and on an average weekend a few hundred each night. This is a local, private neighborhood – and our neighbors are so supportive!

There are over 40,000 Christmas lights along with 3 animatronics that sing and dance to music. The animatronics programming takes seven months to put together and about three weeks to set up lights.

Through our display’s donation box, we’ve collected over $83,000 and granted 20 wishes in nine years. We have granted wishes from a shopping spree, putting in a swimming pool, to a trip to Disney, LegoLand, and a bedroom remodel.”

JE: “For the last 7 years, I have participated in the fair and teach kids how water gets from Aqua to their houses and the importance of water conservation and protecting the environment. It’s very fun and interactive. I also pull other colleagues of mine in, to help with the presentations as well.”

Is there a specific story that has really touched you?

DZ: “In addition to the light display, I also have been trained by Make-A-Wish to go out into the community and meet face-to-face with families to talk about their individual wishes.

During our very first family visit, I was speaking with the mother about her son and realized I knew her son – he went to school with my son. It was very emotional. His wish was to go to Disney and we sent him. This was the first wish I helped grant and very meaningful as we knew him.

Going out into the community and meeting face-to face with families is both rewarding and hard. I wear my emotions on my sleeves and spend a lot of time behind closed door shedding tears. The families we meet have a lasting impact on our lives. They often follow-up with photos and updates – we love being able to have a positive impact on these kids’ lives.”

JE: “I get a lot of questions from the kids…they really find this fascinating. One time during the presentation, I was discussing the hydrological cycle – and the kids immediately said they had learned a song in school to help them remember this process – and started singing it to me. It was so amazing! Kids are like sponges and absorb everything!

Why is giving back so important?

DZ: “When I was young my family didn’t have a lot. My dad worked a lot of overtime and mom stayed home with us. Vacations were few and far between, and money was tight. My wife and I are extremely blessed with good jobs and feel it’s our job to give back to people that need it.

My children are actively engaged in the volunteering so they can see how fortunate they are. It’s important to engage your own children in giving back and volunteering. Helping them find a cause they are passionate about and taking action – to make a difference is so important.

JE: “Educating future generations is so important. Kids don’t know where their clean water comes from – they need to appreciate how lucky we are to have clean water at our disposal. Kids need to also understand the importance of protecting our water and environment – water isn’t always easy to get for everyone. Hopefully teaching them what all it takes, will have a lasting impact.”

How can others get involved?

DZ: “Visit our light display page at or follow us on Facebook at the Zombek Christmas Light Display Group.”

JE: “It would be very easy for someone else at the company to get involved with their local communities and reach out to their local school districts to find out how to get involved with educational programs…. it’s so important to teach kids and others about the importance of water conservation.”

What are you thankful for this year?

DZ: “I’m thankful for the health of my family first, then thankful I have a job that allows me the opportunity to help so many people each year.”

JE: “I am thankful for my colleagues who all work so hard to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource. Everyone does such a great job. I am also thankful for my family and lasting friendships.”

What is the best part about working for Essential?

DZ: “The freedom to do what I enjoy day to day with my job, plus the huge support with volunteering. I’m a member of the VAC (volunteer action committee) and strive to promote to our employees how important it is to give back. A lot of people associate giving back to donations, when in fact, sometimes, it’s your time that’s most important to these people.”

JE: “I grew up in the water company- my mom and dad ran Hill Country Utilities and in 1998 they sold it to Aquasource – which sold to Philadelphia Suburban Water – which is now Aqua. When I was little, I would help my dad read meters during the weekends, when I could drive, I would drive my own 1965 Mustang to read meters. I would help crews, jump in ditches and help put in water lines. At one point my dad said “here’s a broken meter – now go fix it!” Now I am a supervisor for the company. There is always something to do. It’s like family here. Some of the customers I have known for over 30 years. I really like what I do and the people I work with.”

Thank you to Don and Jess for sharing your stories and for making a meaningful impact in the lives of so many!